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Senate Ag Committee Hosts First Farm Bill Field Hearing

By John Johnson

It was a windy, cloudy and chilly day on Feb. 23 in Manhattan, Kansas, but U.S. Senators Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) were warmly received by a large audience in McCain Auditorium on the campus of Kansas State University. The audience, comprised of farmers, commodity organization representatives, agri-businessmen, and farm lenders, was there to hear testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry regarding the next farm bill. Roberts is chairman of the committee, and Stabenow is the ranking member.

PCCA member and Kansas Cotton Association Vice President Tom Lahey, a fourth generation farmer near Moscow in Southwest Kansas, presented oral and written testimony on behalf of the U.S. cotton industry. During his introduction of Lahey, Chairman Roberts paused, looked at members of the audience and stated “yes, we grow cotton in Kansas.” During his testimony, Lahey noted the current economic situation for much of production agriculture, including U.S. cotton farmers is bleak, adding the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill coincided with significant changes in the global cotton market.

“Shortly after the bill was approved, cotton prices began a significant decline, the result of a build-up of global cotton stocks, especially in China, decreased demand, and reduced exports,” he testified. “This led to the lowest U.S. cotton acreage for 2015 in over 30 years. While cotton prices and acreage have increased from the lows experienced in 2015, producers are still struggling with prices at levels not adequate to cover all production costs.”

USDA estimates approximately 12.23 million cotton acres will be planted in 2017, and Kansas farmers are expected to plant 56,000 acres, a 75 percent increase from 2016. However, Lahey noted a major concern still exists since cotton is not eligible for the same price and revenue policies as other crops.

“As you know, these Title 1 policies in the farm bill are designed to help producers withstand periods of price declines and depressed market conditions,” he reminded the Senators. “While the ARC/PLC policies have generally performed well in responding to the market downturn we are experiencing in crops like wheat, corn, grain sorghum, and soybeans, I continue to be largely exposed on cotton since it was excluded from these types of programs.” Lahey also reviewed NCC’s efforts to get cottonseed designated as a covered commodity eligible for ARC and PLC payments in the current farm bill.

“Our industry believes support can be provided for cottonseed without running afoul of the agreement with Brazil that settled the WTO case,” he said. “We strongly believe we need to get a cottonseed policy in place to help provide support to our producers as a bridge until the new farm bill is enacted, hopefully by the 2019 crop.” Lahey also expressed strong opposition to any attempts to reduce the budget for the next farm bill and support for maintaining a strong crop insurance program.

Citing the latest Congressional Budget Office projection that the 2014 Farm Bill will cost $100 billion less than was estimated when the bill was enacted, Lahey added “We urge the Committee to seek any opportunities to increase federal investment in farm policies that ensure the U.S. consumer continues to have the safest, most affordable and secure supply of food and fiber in the world.”

“Maintaining a strong crop insurance program is also critical since in agriculture, one thing is for certain, crop losses will occur in some parts of the U.S. each year,” Lahey said.